Happy Birthday Amber! Thank you so much for including me in your celebration.
I had no idea the room would smell like the incense I remembered from when I was an altar boy. It was also dimly lit and a bit creepy. But it belonged to a vampire, so really, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
“I’m sorry, what precisely are we looking for?” he yelled from three aisles away.
“I told you,” I shouted back, irritated that the man could not stay on task for more than a few minutes at a time. “I swear to God, I had no idea werewolves could get ADHD.”
There was a sound like something fell and then a scream followed closely by a crash.
“What did you break?”
“Nothing,” he yelled even as I heard him kick something. “Piece of crap!”
“If you don’t want to help me then––”
“I don’t in fact want to help you! I’m out of––”
“You owe me,” I reminded him sweetly.
James Castile, or Charming, as I called him, had crashed at my place the last time he’d had a run in with some members of his old pack. When he’d left West Virginia for California, the alpha who’d tormented him since he was a kid took exception. James had lost both his parents in a car accident before he was five. Having no other relatives, his pack had done what it was made to do and took care of its own.
James was passed around from pillar to post all under the eye of the sadistic alpha until at age sixteen, he ran and never looked back. Even with a shift that healed more damage than most humans could sustain, he bore serious scars. I had never asked to what extent the physical abuse ran; it was not my place. What I did know was that when his old alpha finally tracked him down, his new pack didn’t put themselves in harm’s way to defend him. I did.
Charming was bleeding when I reached him, hanging chained like a piece of meat. I freed him, and then I was advanced on, the lone human in a sea of shifters.
“You’ll want to stay back,” I warned them.
“You’re dead,” threatened the wolf who had brutalized my friend as a child.
Charming put his head back and laughed even as he spit up blood.
The next step the alpha took, I called my mate. Normally I would have tried to handle things by myself, but there was no reasoning with that blood-thirsty lunatic.
Everything changed when Cael appeared out of thin air.
My mate was a very possessive, thousand year old incubus demon with the power to cast people into hell and no patience to speak of. He had been in the middle of something on another plane, and so was curt and to the point.
“If you touch him, or do anything he doesn’t like,” he huffed out. “I’ll gut you where you stand.”
The threat, delivered so bluntly, his obvious boredom and annoyance, combined with his eyes going from cobalt to gold in an instant, terrified the twenty men in the room with us. He turned, put a hand on my cheek, smiled, and disappeared. I had never seen people clear out so fast.
Cael was not thrilled when I moved a werewolf into our guest room later that day, but Charming needed a safe haven and we had the space.
So when I needed a sidekick to go to the reliquary with me, I called in his debt. Besides, no matter how much Charming protested the impromptu shopping trip, over time, we’d grown from enemies to begrudging acquaintances to friends.
“It’s very Warehouse 13 in here,” I mentioned as I walked down the aisle, picking things up and blowing dust off of them before putting them back.
“What?” Charming asked, sounding closer than I thought he was. Turning my head, I found him at the end of the aisle.
“Do you not watch television?”
He squinted at me.
“Heathen,” I grumbled, looking at more items.
“So you want a magical gift?” he asked, striding toward me, the swagger unmistakable. The man did not suffer from a lack of self-confidence.
Of course, if I had his dark green eyes, long glossy back hair, and a hard, rangy body, I would have strutted like a peacock too. As it was, people considered me husky or beefy, even though I worked on my physique every day. What was nice was that the most beautiful creature I’d ever laid eyes on thought I was stunning. The knowledge never failed to make me smile.
“Can you focus?” he snapped at me.
“Yes,” I answered, turning to look at him. “I want something magical and perfect and––”
“Birthdays are stupid,” he remarked, picking up things on the shelf behind me.
“What? They’re never as good as they were when you were little. Buying gifts for people is tedious, and unless it is super expensive, no one really likes what you get anyway.”
“Holy shit,” I groused at him. “Jaded much?”
“Oh come on, Corrigan,” he said, calling me, as he always did, by my last name. “Nobody really gives a crap about birthdays.”
“And us being here, looking for a gift for a thousand year old demon is just—” He threw his arms up and turned in a circle. “I mean, really? What do you expect to find that he hasn’t seen?”
I ignored him.
“What more could there possibly be that he doesn’t know about?”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“Who are you talking to?” he asked with a scowl.
I groaned and walked on.
“You should get him a bar of gold or something.”
He was wrong.
“What?” I was confused.
“You said I was wrong.”
I did? “Well you are,” I said gruffly, rounding on him. “Birthdays are more for other people than for you.”
He crossed his arms and waited.
“Birthdays are the time when people get to remember you and what you mean to them. They get to tell you how much they love you or like you or want to hug you or throttle you or whatever.”
“It’s a day when they get to see you or call you. It’s important. You should always try to celebrate your birthday, even if it’s only going out to dinner with the person you love or a group of people.” I grinned. “Or in your case, someone who doesn’t think you’re a total asshole.”
“And so, yeah, I don’t know when Cael was conjured into existence since he wasn’t born in a traditional sense, but he says he’s sure it was after Samhain and before the snows. To me that means November, so that’s when I’m celebrating it.”
“Can I say something?”
“No,” I barked at him. “Dorian gave me the afternoon in here to pick whatever I want. When a four-hundred-year-old vampire lets you loose in his reliquary for a few hours, you don’t waste time bickering with a surly werewolf, you look around for the best thing and grab it.”
We stood there, silently glowering at one another.
“Can I talk now?” he asked after several minutes.
He coughed. “You’re right. Birthdays are important.”
“But I really do think you’re missing the point to Cael’s.”
“What are you talking about?”
He took a step closer to me. “The only thing that mate of yours has ever wanted is you.”
I kept quiet.
“So maybe you make it permanent.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
I shook my head. “He needs something really––”
“Don’t be a bigger idiot than usual.”
It couldn’t be that easy. I had been planning to surprise Cael for weeks with a big trip and the perfect gift, but could my belligerent friend be right? Was the simplest thing really the best?
Two weeks later, I got home after seven, having stopped to pick up something for Cael. He loved cooking, saying it was as close to creation as he’d ever get. So I wasn’t surprised to find him in the kitchen making something that smelled amazing.
“I’m starving,” I said as I came around the corner into the enormous room, lavishly accessorized with every shiny appliance known to man.
“Where were you?” he asked, his tone sharp. He stepped around the island and looked me over, checking, I was sure, for signs of injury. “You didn’t answer your phone.”
“I had to get something,” I said, ignoring him as I moved by him toward the refrigerator.
He grabbed my arm, stopping me, and even though he could have spun me around fast to face him, he did it slowly instead, with deliberate gentleness. “I was worried. You were moments away from having me materialize wherever you were.”
I tipped my head as I regarded him.
The muscles in his jaw corded and he inhaled deeply.
“I’m not hurt so you figure I’m off screwing around on you?”
“I…no,” he whispered. “You would not.”
“No,” I murmured, taking a step closer. “I wouldn’t and you know that. You’d be able to sense infidelity on me.”
He closed the gap between us and I put my hands gently on his sides, feeling the muscles move under the thin fabric of his dress shirt. “When you touch me, can you tell if I’ve been touched by another?” I kissed the base of his throat. “What do your demonic senses tell you?”
“Everything,” he said his voice low and gravelly. “Any other touch but mine lingers on your skin, scents cling to you, and kisses leave brands only I can see and taste.”
“And?” I asked, pressing closer, drawn to the warmth rippling off him.
“You have given no other your submission.”
“Never,” I promised, allowing him to lift my chin as he bent toward me.
My lips parted when he kissed me and his tongue drove deep, tasting, claiming, his dominance triggering the constant need in me that only he had ever discovered or been able to quench. My desire for him almost drowned my intention but I shoved away from him before I forgot what I wanted to do.
“Come back,” he said irritably, reaching for me. “I feel the surrender in you. Why are you fighting?”
I dropped to one knee and got a filthy leer in response, his lips curling into a wicked grin.
“Not what you’re thinking,” I said, chuckling as I pulled the small velvet box from the pocket of my peacoat, snapped open the lid, and lifted it to him like the offering it was.
It was very rewarding to watch his beautiful midnight blue eyes widen. The demon had not expected the gold ring with the diamonds in it.
“I wanna ask you something,” I said hoarsely, staring up at him.
His mouth was open but no words came out.
“But first I want to say happy birthday.”
“Every year, on Thanksgiving we’re gonna celebrate your day because for me, you’re what I’m thankful for.”
His breath caught.
“And I want you to marry me and be with me forever.”
Squinting fast, his eyes filled anyway. He was a scary supernatural creature capable of unimaginable acts of horror but also, and more importantly, he loved me. And lately, I’d wondered if maybe, just maybe, my love could save him. We had a lot of time to test my theory.
“So,” I huffed out. “Will you? Marry me?”
He was bigger than me, taller, stronger, scarier, but as he stood towering over me, he nodded fast because he was too moved to speak.
Taking the ring out of the box, I slid it onto his left hand and then slowly rose never once breaking his gaze.
“Say it,” I prodded.
He took my face in his hands. “I am nothing but yours, Frank Corrigan. Always.”
I smiled broadly and watched the effect on him, the clench of his jaw muscles and the slight tremble that ran through his hard, muscular frame. “Good.”
I spread my arms wide. “All yours.”
I want to offer any one book from my backlist to Amber’s choice of winner on this post. I will put the book on your DSP bookshelf in pdf format.
Mary Calmes lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and two children and loves all the seasons except summer. She graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. Due to the fact that it is English lit and not English grammar, do not ask her to point out a clause for you, as it will so not happen. She loves writing, becoming immersed in the process, and falling into the work. She can even tell you what her characters smell like. She loves buying books and going to conventions to meet her fans.